Can music untangle web of food fraud, counterfeit?

Judges listen to one of the contestants in Mbale City. PHOTO/FILE/DERRICK KIYONGA

What you need to know:

  • A new campaign dubbed Fake is fake uses music to sensitise people against counterfeits.  

Against the backdrop of sprinkling rainfall in the mountainous eastern city of Mbale, Mr Sam Welishe storms the stage. Known to friends and contemporaries as Bwasha, Mr Welishe is a native of Wanale Sub-county.

After singing two songs about agriculture in Lumasaaba, he tells Saturday Monitor that residents of his sub-county that is renowned for hosting the famous Wanale ridge “take every aspect of farming seriously.”    

After him, Mr Abdul-Hakeem Mawanda, alias Mawanda Legacy, took the stage bellowing out his latest composition entitled “Fake is fake.” Then Ms Winnie Racheal Nambuya, with no particular composition belts one of Irene Namubiru’s songs. 

“She is my hero,” the 26-year-old resident of Mbale City says of Namubiru. “She has very meaningful songs that’s why I choose to sing her songs for this audition.”     
The efforts of this trio and about 30 other youth were geared towards convincing a panel of seven adjudicators that they have what it takes to musically spread the gospel against counterfeits. This was in a campaign spearheaded by the Anti-Counterfeit Network (ACN), dubbed “Fake is fake.”   

In what could without a shadow of a doubt mirror what is happening in the rest of Uganda, farmers in Bugisu Sub-region—which is famed for being an agricultural base—continually struggle with the inflow of fake agricultural inputs and acaricides.

Most of the farmers who till the fertile soils on the slopes of Mt Elgon where the vast bulk of Uganda’s Arabica coffee beans are grown—cannot tell genuine agricultural products apart from fake ones. 

A 2022 study by ACN puts the number of such farmers hailing from districts such as Sironko, Bududa, Manafwa, Bulambuli, Mbale, and Namisindwa at 72 percent. The baseline report entitled ‘Counterfeit Agro-inputs in eastern Uganda’ indicated that farmers in swaths of Bugisu revealed that the most counterfeited agro–input were seeds.  

Dire consequences
This finding affirmed the 2021 findings by the Uganda National Bureau of Standards that estimated 30 percent of seeds on the Ugandan market are fake. Counterfeiting seeds on such a large scale has grave ramifications not least because Ugandan farmers are duped into buying certain brands with the promise of high yields only for them to fail to germinate.  

“Perhaps the most depressing effect of counterfeit agro-inputs is that they undercut the profit margin of the farmer,” Mr Fred Muwema, the director of legal at the ACN, tells Saturday Monitor. 
“A lot of money is spent on buying the inputs and yet the quality of the harvest is poor. The wrong chemicals, in the form of substandard or adulterated products, also damage the environment,” he says.   

The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPR) paints a gloomy picture about the state of affairs in Uganda in its 2015 report. It notes that the use of high-quality agricultural inputs like hybrid seed, agrochemicals, and fertiliser is extremely low. This, IFPR adds, depresses farm incomes and contributes to low agricultural productivity that continues to be hampered by poor agronomic practices, low-quality germ plasm, declining soil fertility, and losses due to pests.
Disease, poor post-harvest handling practices, low levels of agricultural technology adoption and a lack of farmer trust in the current inputs supply system are all exacerbated by counterfeiting.  

“Counterfeit products range from benign fake or adulterated materials to banned substances that are harmful to crops and human health,” the IFPR notes in the report. 

“Counterfeit agricultural inputs directly reduce productivity and, together with the perception of widespread counterfeiting, reduce demand for high-quality inputs. This lowers input prices and reduces profits for producers of genuine products, causing a form of ‘adverse selection’ in which counterfeit products push high-quality genuine products out of the market,” it adds.

What the law says
Section 30 of the  National Drug Policy and Authority Act, which tackles the circulation of impure drugs, stipulates thus: “Any person who— (a) sells any drug, medical appliance, or similar article, which is not of the nature, substance, and quality demanded or which, unless otherwise agreed at the time of demand, does not conform to the standards laid down in the authorised pharmacopeia; or supplies any drug which is unwholesome or adulterated or which does not conform to the prescription under which it is supplied, commits an offence and is liable to a fine not exceeding Shs5 million or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 10 years or to both.” 

One of the competitors at the Fake is fake auditions in Mbale City recently. The campaign is spearheaded by the Anti-Counterfeit Network.  PHOTO/DERRICK KIYONGA

To further fight counterfeits, in 2015 the Ugandan government had proposed the Anti-Counterfeiting Goods Bill. The Cabinet withdrew it in 2021, stating that there are other laws that can address the gap. The Bill was introduced in 2015 with the objective of combating the importation and sale of counterfeit products on the domestic market.    
“It’s clear the penalties are very low,” says Kirsten Pfeiffer, the deputy of Chief Party at Feed the Future Uganda Inclusive Agricultural Markets Activity. “The people here—the prosecutors, the legal officers, the lawyers—have limited time. We have seen lawyers such as the ACN getting interested. We hope the laws will be amended to make the penalties stronger.” 
Mr Muwema tells Saturday Monitor that ACN has managed “to get a prison sentence for just one person.” He further reveals that “in most cases people just pay fines and they move on.” 
Though everyone who is involved in fighting counterfeits concedes that prosecution of the counterfeiters is crucial, it is also believed that there is a need for a softer approach. When the ACN was doing its baseline survey on counterfeits in agro-inputs in the Bugisu Sub-region, the feedback they got from the farmers indicated that music and similar programming on radio could be the best way to channel the awareness messages against counterfeits. 
This is why the music competition under the “Fake is fake” campaign was rolled out targeting mainly young people who have dreams to make it in the music industry. 
“This is the first music competition that targets counterfeits,” Mr Muwema tells Saturday Monitor, adding, “Other competitions have been about love, environment, wildlife, and the like. We think through music the population will be able to understand what counterfeits are and how to fight them because they are a danger to all of us.”

Money-spinning                              industry

The counterfeiting problem is not peculiar to Uganda. The World Health Organisation (WHO), in 2021 revealed that bogus drugs are the world’s most profitable counterfeit goods, with a global market worth roughly $200 billion. It further revealed that Africa accounts for around 42 percent of the world’s cases. 
    Although it is hard to put a figure on the scale of the problem, a pharmaceutical-technology report has indicated that fake drugs for pneumonia and malaria may be killing around 250,000 children every year. Some of the drugs are poorly mass-produced or have been sold past their shelf life. In other cases, the drugs are made and circulated by criminal gangs. 
    WHO puts Africa at the epicentre of the $200 billion money-spinning industry. In March 2019 alone, WHO’s sirens went off after fake meningitis vaccines (in Niger) and fake hypertension drugs (in Cameroon) were discovered on the continent.     
   Then in August, fabricated varieties of the antibiotic Augmentin were found in Uganda and Kenya. 
Little wonder, in 2021, the National Drug Authority (NDA) said its routine monitoring, surveillance and intelligence on the quality of medical products in the Ugandan market discovered falsified Augmentin.